BART JANSEN AND CHRISTAL HAYES | USA TODAY |
WASHINGTON – Three House committees investigating the potential impeachment of President Donald Trump uncovered a months-long effort “to use the powers of his office to solicit foreign interference on his behalf in the 2020 election,” according to their draft report released Tuesday.
“The evidence of the President’s misconduct is overwhelming, and so too is the evidence of his obstruction of Congress,” the 300-page report said.
The three panels – Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight and Reform – spent weeks taking sworn testimony from 17 witnesses from the State Department and national security officials. The witnesses described Trump withholding a White House meeting and then military aid from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky unless he announced investigations of Trump’s political rival, Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter. The Intelligence Committee then held five days of public hearings with 12 of the witnesses.
Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said the investigation found that Trump withheld official acts such as a White House meeting and nearly $400 million in military aid in order to compel Ukraine to deliver two investigations to help his reelection campaign in 2020.
“This report chronicles a scheme by the president of the United States to coerce an ally, Ukraine, that is at war with an adversary, Russia, into doing the president’s political dirty work,” Schiff told reporters Tuesday. “We do not intend to delay when the integrity of the next election is at risk.
“We should care about this, we must care about this. And if we don’t care about this, we can be darn sure the president will be back at it, doing this all over again,” Schiff said.
He said that if Congress doesn’t act, it would be “begging for more of the same” where a president is “beyond accountability” and where future corruption “will be far more likely than it is today.”
“We will have to decide,” Schiff said. “Are we prepared to just get over it?”
Trump’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, criticized the report and the process that yielded it.
U.S. and Ukraine relations go further back than the now infamous phone call between Trump and Zelensky. We explain their relationship.
“At the end of a one-sided sham process, Chairman Schiff and the Democrats utterly failed to produce any evidence of wrongdoing by President Trump,” Grisham said. “This report reflects nothing more than their frustrations. Chairman Schiff’s report reads like the ramblings of a basement blogger straining to prove something when there is evidence of nothing.”
The House Republican Conference chief, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said the “sham impeachment effort” was fundamentally unfair because they decided on all of the witnesses and prevented Republicans from asking certain questions.
“The Democrats were able to act as judge and prosecutor,” Cheney said. “The Democrats essentially stacked the deck in their favor.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said lawmakers should be working on a trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, and a government funding bill, rather than pursue impeachment.
“Name me one problem you have solved,” McCarthy said the American public would like to know from Democrats.
What happens next? Impeachment moves to House Judiciary for the next phase
The Intelligence Committee adopted the report Tuesday on a party line vote of 13 to 9 and allowed two days for Republicans to contribute a minority report. The Judiciary Committee will use the report as a foundation for possible articles of impeachment.
Schiff has already summarized the findings as a more serious abuse of power and obstruction of Congress than what drove former President Richard Nixon to resign during his impeachment inquiry.
“The President’s actions have damaged our national security, undermined the integrity of the next election, and violated his oath of office,” the three chairmen – Schiff, Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Oversight Chairman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. – said in releasing the report. “They have also challenged the very core of our Constitutional system of checks and balances, separation of powers, and rule of law.”
The report said Congress must now decide what remedy to seek, including potential impeachment. Schiff declined to say whether Trump’s actions merit impeachment but said lawmakers “have a very difficult decision ahead of us to make.”
“The question presented by the set of facts enumerated in this report may be as simple as that posed by the President and his chief of staff’s brazenness: is the remedy of impeachment warranted for a president who would use the power of his office to coerce foreign interference in a U.S. election, or is that now a mere perk of the office that Americans must simply ‘get over’?” the report asked.
Trump has refused to participate in the inquiry he contends is a partisan “witch hunt,” including the first Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday. Trump called the prospect of impeachment or censure “unacceptable” again Tuesday and questioned the patriotism of Democrats.
Republicans on the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight and Reform committees released their minority report Monday, which will also be sent to the Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who serves on three of the investigating committees, said in a tweet that nothing in the report would change that Trump and Zelensky each said there was no pressure to begin investigations and that Ukraine never took action to get the military funding released. “Doesn’t matter what the Dems write,” Jordan said.
Another Judiciary member, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., dismissed the report in a tweet.
“The Schiff report is a novella built on conjecture and presumption,” Gaetz said. “It offers no startling revelations, and nothing that fulfills Speaker Pelosi’s promise of a bipartisan impeachment process. The facts before the American people are clear: Donald Trump is innocent.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., asks former National Security Council official Fiona Hill and State department official David Holmes questions as they testify in a public hearing in the impeachment inquiry into allegations President Donald Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 21, 2019.
The inquiry revealed that Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, pushed for months for Ukraine to investigate possible meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and the Bidens. Giuliani led a campaign that criticized Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine before Trump recalled her in May.
But Fiona Hill, a former Russia expert formerly on the National Security Council, defended Yovanovitch and testified that the entire U.S. intelligence committee found that Russia meddled in the 2016 election. Any effort to blame Ukraine, a U.S. ally, with meddling in the election was a “false narrative” promoted by Russia, Hill said.
Phone records included in the report detailed contacts between Giuliani, his associate Lev Parnas, and Hill newspaper columnist John Solomon. Solomon wrote columns in April attacking Yovanovitch. Schiff said Tuesday he couldn’t “go into specifics” on where investigators got the phone records. But Schiff said the communications outlined a “considerable coordination” in the smear campaign against Yovanovitch.
Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, assured Ukraine officials at a July 10 meeting at the White House that a meeting between Trump and Zelensky would occur in exchange for investigations. “As I testified previously, Mr. Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky,” Sondland said.
Former national security adviser John Bolton abruptly ended the meeting, telling Hill that he wasn’t part of whatever “drug deal” Sondland and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney “are cooking up,” Hill testified.
During a National Security Council call on July 18, a staffer at the White House Office of Management and Budget announced the suspension of $391 million in security aid for Ukraine. “I and others sat in astonishment,” said Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine. “The Ukrainians were fighting Russians and counted on not only the training and weapons, but also the assurance of U.S. support. All that the OMB staff person said was that the directive had come from the president to the chief of staff to OMB.”
On July 25, Trump urged Zelensky by phone to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter, who worked at the energy company Burisma Holdings. “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that, so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution, so if you can look into it…,” Trump said. “It sounds horrible to me.”
David Holmes, political counselor in the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, overheard Sondland the next day chatting with Trump by phone and assuring him Zelensky would announce an investigation. “Ambassador Sondland said he loves your ass,” Holmes said the ambassador told Trump about Zelensky. “He’ll do anything you want. He said he is going to do the investigation.”
On Aug. 12, an anonymous whistleblower filed a complaint with the inspector general for the intelligence community about the July 25 call. “In the course of my official duties, I have received information from multiple U.S. government officials that the president of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election,” the complaint said. “This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the president’s main domestic political rivals.”
Ukraine officials started asking about the suspension in aid by mid-August. At a Sept. 1 meeting in Warsaw, Sondland told Andriy Yermak, a top aide to Zelensky, that providing the money would depend on the announcement of investigations. Taylor notified Sondland on Sept. 9 that “it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” Sondland assured him there was “no quid pro quo,” after speaking with Trump.
Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community, notified the House Intelligence Committee about the whistleblower complaint Sept. 9. The military aid was released Sept. 11.
Trump released a summary of his July 25 call on Sept. 25, calling the conversation “perfect.” Trump and congressional Republicans have argued that he was justified in calling for investigations because Ukraine was notoriously corrupt. Republicans also said Trump met with Zelensky and released the money without an announcement of investigations. And Republicans said Trump was right to fight the investigation because it was biased and unfair.
But Democrats said conditioning a meeting or military aid on investigations could be considered bribery, and that Trump could be accused of abusing the power of his office.
Democrats also said administration stonewalling by refusing to provide documents and blocking testimony from aides such as Bolton and Mulvaney could be considered obstruction of Congress.
“President Trump and his senior officials may see nothing wrong with using the power of the Office of the President to pressure a foreign country to help the President’s reelection campaign,” the report said. In response to the investigation, “President Trump engaged in an unprecedented campaign of obstruction of this impeachment inquiry,” the report said.